Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gun Recording Interview

Gun Recording Interview

Interviewed  by  (Game Audio Network Guild).

This month we interviewed Chuck Russom about his recently released sound library Guns: Vol 1, with Volume 2 due out soon.  Chuck is a Game Audio veteran with more than 15 years experience working as Sound Designer, Sound Effects Recordist and Audio Director.  Some of the franchises he has been involved are Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, God of War and James Bond.  We had the chance to talk about the recording and editing process Chuck uses to create his libraries, as well as some advice for recording your own gun sounds.

RSYou recently released the first volume of your Guns library, with the second second coming out in November. Whats the main difference between the two volumes of Gun libraries?
Chuck Russom: This summer I went out and did a massive gun shoot where we recorded 27 different guns to be used as a sound library. I decided rather than having one massive/expensive sound library, I’d split it into 2 volumes so that I could get sound from half the guns done and released while I work on editing the remaining half. That would also allow me to offer lower cost purchase options. Guns Volume 1 is the first half, Guns Volume 2 will be the second half. Both volumes are very similar, they just each feature a different set of guns.
RS: Do you add any processing to the sounds in your libraries. I understand you try to keep it as close as possible to the raw sound?
CR: I have two types of libraries that I create. The first type are raw sound effect recordings. I try to keep processing to a minimum with these libraries. I will use corrective EQ and Noise Reduction if needed. I will also adjust volume levels. My gun library, dog library, and rocks library are a few examples of this type. The second type of libraries I create are more sound design oriented. For those libraries, anything goes as far as processing. My whoosh libraries are an example of this type of library.
RS: I was wondering how you handle the editing process for these tracks? You mention you record on average 14-16 tracks per shot. After a day of recording I imagine there’s a huge collection of material. Do you have a set work flow to get through it all? How do you choose which tracks end up in the final library?
CR: On the gun shoot, we had two recordists covering three main perspectives (close, medium, and distant). Each perspective had multiple mics/tracks. We had 5 recorders running for a total of 22 tracks. We tried to keep each weapon to a single take (we hit record on all machines and tried to capture all of the different shots for that weapon in one take). Sometimes we’d have to stop recording a start a new take (like if a plane flew overhead). I knew that having as few takes as possible would help when I got around to editing. We kept extensive notes of what weapon/action was recorded on each take (on each recorder). At the end of the day, we had 55GB of raw recordings.
I create an editing session for each weapon and import all of the tracks and takes for that gun. I generally edit every take and track. If I find there are takes/tracks that have noise issues that will require too much work to fix, I’ll usually skip them. If certain tracks sound too similar to others, I’ll pass on those too. In the end, each gun ends up with about 12-16 tracks that make it into the library.
RS: There’s a really insightful article you did for designing sound in 2010 – http://designingsound.org/2010/04/chuck-russom-special-gun-recording-guide/ – that goes into details about the recording process. Has anything changed about the process since then, do you still come across surprises?
CR: A lot of my basic process has remained the same. I try to experiment a little each time I go out. Maybe it is a new type of mic I’ve never tried, or altering some positions on mics I’ve used previously. I only experiment once I have my basic (I know this will work) setup laid out. Sometimes those experiments get added into my basic process for next time. Sometimes they fail and never get tried again.
The biggest change to my process came about from working with Charles Maynes. I’ve known Charles for years, but we had never gone out and recorded guns together. A couple years ago, we were both hired by Bungie to record guns for Destiny. What amazes me about Charles is how fast he works. I had never worked that fast before. It was actually kind of stressful keeping up with him! He can get through a surprising number of guns in a single day and his recordings come out great. It comes from experience, knowing what will work, and having the confidence not to second guess yourself.
A while after that Destiny shoot, I got hired to record guns for Splinter Cell Blacklist. On that shoot, we had a huge amount of weapons to get through in a short time. I was able to carry on from what I learned watching Charles work and really move quick on that session. That was the shoot that I really learned the importance of managing the shoot and pushing the session along. How to really work with the weapon handler and everyone else on site to ensure a smooth and quick moving process.
I found that knowing the weapons, knowing what you want, and trusting your own abilities are essential to moving fast. When we went out to record my weapon library we recorded 27 guns in one day which is a crazy amount. We had to work fast, but we had to get great results. I really owe that all to Charles. I used to be pretty slow and meticulous in the field, which is great if you have the time. But you don’t always have the luxury of time. It’s gotten easier for me now! Even though this time it was my money on the line, I didn’t even feel stressed!
RS: For someone who’s never recorded any gun sounds before do you have any advice for doing a first recording? Is it possible to do a low scale recording?
CR: It really comes down to your needs. If you only need a single perspective, or maybe a couple perspectives, and you have access to some decent gear and the weapons you need, then you can probably pull something off. It all comes down to budget; if you don’t have a budget, you do what you can. But if you have the money then you should just do it right.
When I do my shoots, I have specific weapon needs. I have specific perspectives that need coverage. I need reliable weapons that will function when needed and I need people who understand the weapons and how to get me the takes I require. I also need quiet and safe locations, I can’t just go out on a public shooting range. For what I do, I can’t do a small scale session.
The thing that I find most interesting is that I will talk with sound designers who do have a budget to spend on gun shoots, but they don’t hire a professional recordist to help them. Instead they go out with their friends and whatever equipment they can gather and try what they can. I’m all for people looking to get experience, we’ve all been there. The message that I try to give people is that hiring a professional recordist is such a small part of the budget on a shoot. It is almost crazy not to hire someone to come help you run the shoot. Just the gear they bring is worth the expense, and their experience is invaluable. You can still set up your own gear and get experience, but have peace of mind knowing that someone with experience is with you and will get you usable results.
Interview originally appeared on the Game Audio Network Guild website: http://www.audiogang.org/chuck-russom-interview-recording-guns/

Interview With A Sound Effect

Chuck Russom Interview

Meet Chuck Russom – an independent sound effects pioneer

Chuck Russom was one of the very first sound designers to release sound effects independently, so I’m really happy to welcome him here at A Sound Effect.
In this exclusive Q&A he tells what it was like starting out in indie SFX, the stories behind some of his SFX libraries – and what it takes to make it as an independent SFX creator today.
You started Chuck Russom FX back in 2010 – what made you launch your own independent sound effects? And how has the market evolved since then?
Chuck Russom FX evolved out of a blog that I was running back in 2009/2010. I started the blog to inspire myself to record new sounds. Each week, I’d record something and share it on the blog. I got a lot of great feedback, people seems genuinely interested in what I was sharing. At the same time, I was going through my archives, posting sounds I’d recorded over the years. The idea for releasing SFX libraries seemed like a logical extension of what I was doing with the blog. My Metal FX librarywas born out of recordings I was sharing on the blog. I’d posted a 192K recording of dry ice, with examples at half and quarter speeds. It was a very popular post, so that started the wheels turning for a library release.
The idea of recording/releasing a sound library was something I had been kicking around as far back as 2004. I had ideas for recordings, but never could figure out how I wanted to release it. Internet distribution just wasn’t an option back then. You pretty much had to work with one of the big publishers, which wasn’t really what I was looking to do. So, the idea was tabled for many years. As a matter of fact, my Blood and Guts and Metal Impacts libraries were born out of that time. Blood and Guts was recorded in 2005, but at the time was going to be part of a much bigger collection. Those recordings sat for years, until I figured out what to do with them.
The biggest difference between now and 2010 is that there wasn’t anyone doing this back then. Well, Frank By (The Recordist) was around. But I’m pretty sure he was around when the dinosaurs were here; chasing them around with a boom pole and stereo mic. I’m still waiting for his Ultimate T-Rex library (get on that Frank)…
I remember when I first announced on Twitter that I was going to start releasing SFX libraries. Tim Prebble contacted me and said that he had a similar project that he’d been working on. He ended up launching Hiss and a Roar a little before me. Then Michael Raphael launched Rabbit ears audio shortly after I launched.
But that was really it, just a few of us doing this for quite a while. It seemed like a new thing for most people. It really was a new thing. No longer did you have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase a SFX library full of over-designed sounds available only on CD.
No longer did you have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase a SFX library full of over-designed sounds available only on CD.

You’ve got some unique libraries in your catalog, including Fireworks and Skateboard. How do you come up with ideas for new libraries?
Fireworks and Skateboard are both interesting examples as they weren’t planned as libraries. I had the recordings around before I launched Chuck Russom FX. Skateboard was recorded for a project I worked on 5 years ago. I think Fireworks might have been recorded with the idea that I might release sounds libraries one day, but that was years before I figured out how I would do this. As I was listening through my archives, I realised that both of these could be released as small, inexpensive sound libraries. And they’ve both been pretty popular.
Generally, I try to record and release sound libraries that I need. My “day job” is designing sound for games. Most of the libraries I’ve released have been in response to a lack of material in my personal sound library. For instance, I worked on a project where I needed a lot of rock sounds and I just wasn’t happy with the material I had.
Most of the libraries I’ve released have been in response to a lack of material in my personal sound library.
There wasn’t time on the project for recording, but I made a note to record rocks when I had free time. And that was the beginning of Chuck Russom FX. I figured if I need these libraries, there might be others who could use them too.
Other libraries have come about because of found sounds or a a found opportunity. My 2 rain libraries happened like that. I rarely need rain in my work, but there was a very rare period of extended rain in Los Angeles several years ago and I decided to spend the time recording it.
What are some of your favorite libraries in your catalog?
One of the dogs in Chuck's library, giving its best
One of the dogs in Chuck’s library, giving its best
Now that it’s been nearly 5 years, looking back at the catalog, each library really represents a period of time for me. Dogs was a fun experience for me. Hiring a professional handler and working with them as they brought out dog after dog. Talking with them about the unique voices and personalities each animal had. That one was a fun experiment that really paid off with a lot of great material.
Gun Handling is the library that I use the most. I use sounds from that all the time. And it was an easy library for me to do. It is a great example of a library that I would have recorded even if it wasn’t intended for release. I need that stuff daily.
You’ve recently completed a gun library – how did that come about?
I’ve wanted to do a gun library for years. I really wanted to release a collection that was exactly like the material I record when hired by a client; a huge batch of weapons, multiple mics from many positions, multiple takes. Covering anything you might possibly need from a gun. I think every year I would start thinking about it and then quickly shoot the idea down. The biggest problem is cost and logistics. There is so much involved in doing a big recording session like this. And by the time you hire everyone you need, rent the weapons and recording gear, buy the ammo, and travel, you’re looking at a massive budget. I’ve never been able to justify spending that kind of money.
Late in 2013, I was working with a weapon handler that I’ve known for a while. We were setting up a big session for one of my clients and it fell through. I was pretty frustrated as we’d put a lot of work into sourcing a good supply of weapons and a great location. I said at the time that I’d try to get another shoot together soon, even if I had to fund it. So, 2014 rolled around, and I was thinking about it again. I’d been looking at what the future of Chuck Russom FX would be. I spent a good part of early 2014 building a new website that I feel is strong enough to last a long time. This site isn’t held together with duct tape, there is proven tech behind it with good support, so hopefully things won’t fall apart on me like they have in the past…
I decided that going forward, I wanted to move things in a bigger direction, at least for some libraries.
For the most part, Chuck Russom FX had been about doing smaller recording sessions. Things that I could do on my own for little cost. I decided that going forward, I wanted to move things in a bigger direction, at least for some libraries.
Guns seemed like a great way to start the next phase of things. I struggled with the cost. It is quite likely that I will never make my money back on this library. I thought about doing a Kickstarter. Then I shot that idea down. Then I briefly went back to that idea. In the end, I decided it was ok to do this and not make money. I need these sounds all the time in my game work, and even if I can’t break even with library sales, these sounds will serve me well for years.
Setting up the gear for some serious shooting
Setting up the gear for some serious shooting
Guns was a huge time and money investment. I spent 3 months planning it. I had spreadsheets tracking weapon rental costs, ammo counts and costs, location rental, travel costs, equipment that needed to be bought, borrowed, stolen, or rented. I also had a number of people involved on this shoot. On the weapon side, there were 2 handlers and the company who owned the weapons. I needed help on the recording side and wanted to document the sessions, so I brought an additional recordist and a photographer.
A huge amount of time went into planning the logistics. I could only afford to do a one day session. I wanted to record around 25 weapons, which is a lot (too much!) for one day. We recorded in Arizona and I know they can get monsoons in the summer months, so I researched and picked their driest month, June. This time of year would also give me the longest days, so I’d have the most daylight possible.
I looked back at all the game projects that I had designed guns for; what were my needs on those projects? How many weapons do I usually design for a game? How many takes did I need? How many loops vs single shots? How many perspectives did I need?
In the end, after all the hard work, I came away with the best sounding guns I have ever recorded.
I used all of this research to build my recording plan for the library. In the end, after all the hard work, I came away with the best sounding guns I have ever recorded. And that is quite a relief! This whole project could have gone bad in any number of ways.

As an independent SFX creator, how do you build your brand as a sound designer?
That’s probably the hardest part about this business. In the early days, my SFX library was really an extension of my blog, so a lot of the first customers were blog readers. Social media (Twitter mostly) have helped build awareness that I’m out there. The challenge is reaching new people, who don’t know me, and are not on the usual social media channels. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently trying to find ways to let people that I’ve never interacted with before, to let them know that I’m here and this is what I’m doing.
What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned as an indie SFX creator?
You need to release professional products. There is no room for amature stuff anymore, there are just too many people doing this. You need a great web presence; if you’re hosting your own store, you really need to build on proven tech. I always want the shopping experience to be as quick and easy as possible. You’re not going to make a living from this and you quite possibly will lose money doing it. You need to accept that this is a labor of love. If you wrote up a business plan for a SFX company and showed it to any normal business person, they’d probably tell you that you were nuts for even considering this work.
Any word on what the next release will be?
Next up is Guns: Volume 2. I split the gun library into two parts because I knew that this project would take me a long time to edit and master. I also split it up to give people multiple purchase options, so that everyone doesn’t have to spend $300 to get some gun sounds. Guns: Volume 2 was originally planned to be out in October, I’m not sure if that is still the case or if it will slip into November. Gun shots are tough on the ears to edit! Looking further on; I’d love to do more volumes of Guns, but that will depend on how well these initial volumes are received. There were a lot of guns that I could have recorded this time around, but just couldn’t fit them in due to time and budget.
All I’m willing to say right now is it will be kind of electrical, kind of sci-fi, kind of electronic.
I’m really looking forward to getting the guns behind me, because I have a lot of ideas built up. Next up will be something that is a little hard to explain (and a little secret!), all I’m willing to say right now is it will be kind of electrical, kind of sci-fi, kind of electronic.
A lot of it inspired by some of the work I’ve been doing the past couple years on the game “Evolve”. Hopefully that will be out by the end of 2014.

I have another metal library that I started recording a few years ago, I’m hoping I can wrap up the recording process this year. I have ideas for another rock library, I just have to plan it out and find a good location to record. I’m not sure if that is something that will happen soon, or further down the road. I also have plans for another whoosh library, which will be very different from my previous whoosh libraries. Going through my archives, I’ve found a lot of assorted ambiences/backrounds that I’ve recorded. I need to figure out how to put some of those recordings together and see where they fit in the catalog. I keep finding sounds on hard drives that were an idea for a library at one time or another, so there is material I need to seriously revisit and see if it will become a future product. I’m really hoping to fire out new libraries like crazy in 2015.
Interview originally appeared on asoundeffect.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Four Guns West - GDC 2011

At Game Developers Conference 2011, I had the great pleasure of speaking on a panel with 3 talented sound veterans; Charles MaynesChris Sweetman, and Ben Minto (Audio Director at Dice).  Our panel focused on the entire pipeline of gun sound design for games.  From recording, through sound design, to implementation.  Each of us gave a short talk focusing on one element of the process.

Charles Maynes discussed recording gun sounds.  Chris Sweetman and I both talked about gun sound design, each of us having a unique perspective on the process.  Finally, Ben Minto came in an put it all together with a great talk covering the technical side of implementing sounds into a game.  It was great fun with a great bunch of guys and the talk turned out really good.

Here is recorded audio from the talk.  Warning, the quality is listenable but isn't awesome (I had no part in recording this):

Here are the slides from the presentation:

The footage below comes form a EA/DICE gun recording session and shows a comparison of different microphones and positions.  Ben Minto of DICE put this together for the presentation. The video is property of EA/DICE:

Four Guns West

Left to Right: Charles Maynes, Chuck Russom, Chris Sweetman, Ben Minto

Quantum of Solace (The Game) Audio Interview

Chuck Russom Special: Quantum of Solace [Exclusive Interview]


Sadly, the Chuck Russom Special is coming to the end. Here’s the last interview we made, this time talking about “Quantum of Solace” (the video game), where Chuck was the Audio Lead.
Designing Sound: So ,how do you get hired on Treyarch and how do you get involved with Quantum of Solace?
Chuck Russom: I am a huge, life-long fan of the Bond franchise. I even have a poster from You Only Live Twice (Sean Connery era Bond Film) hanging in my dining room. I had always wanted to work on a project set in that world. When Activision picked up the Bond game license a few years back, I started looking into which studio would be doing the games. Everything sort of fell into place and worked out perfectly.
Treyarch was doing the first game. They were based in LA and looking for an Audio Director. Through a friend, I was able to get my resume into Activision and then into Treyarch. They invited me in to interview and I basically told them that I was a Bond nut and I must work on the game. I guess it worked, because they hired me on.
DS: How early you started to work on the game? How long was it?
CR: I started on the game in February of 2007, it shipped in November 2008. I spent 20 months working exclusively on QoS. That is the longest I have ever worked exclusively on any one title.
DS: The 007 is very iconic… How important was for you? I mean there’re different films on 007, different games etc, and QoS features some scenes and stories from the QoS film and also things from Casino Royale. How those elements influenced you to work on the sound of the game?
CR: Working on the franchise was really a very personal thing to me. It was the only game that I worked on where I came in as a hardcore fanboy. I really approached everything I did from the perspective of a fan. I first interviewed job a few weeks before the Casino Royale movie came out. I knew the game would be based on Casino Royale and its sequel. Before I accepted the job, it was important that I was able to see Casino Royale. I knew that it was a reboot. I loved the book and was hopeful the movie would be the best yet, but with reboots it can be hit and miss. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work on the franchise if they totally screwed up the movie. I saw Casino Royale as soon as it was released and absolutely loved the new direction. It cemented the fact that I had to work on the game.
DS: How was the storytelling influenced by sound? What were the decisions on the sound side to enhance the story of the game?
CR: If you think about the sound of Bond, you instantly think of the music. Everyone knows the Bond theme. For me, music was the one thing in the game that constantly reminded you that it was a Bond game. Our composer was Christopher Lennertz. I had worked with Chris before on MOH: Pacific Assault and he’d also done the music for the last EA Bond game; From Russia with Love. He came by the studio one day and we talked about the music from Casino Royale and just Bond music in general. It was awesome; he totally got the music of Bond.
Our ideas were totally in sync. We already had a great relationship from the last time we worked together it was great to have the chance to work with him a second time. Chris is so easy to work with and such talented composer. Working with him on QoS was one of the highlights of the project for me.
DS: Lots of guns, explosions, car scenes, all kind of places, etc. I think the field recording had to be heavy. How was that?
CR: For the first several months on the project, there was little game to actually work on. I devoted most of my time recording or planning recording sessions. I’d drive around LA with recording gear in my car looking for construction sites to record for the construction chase level. Record anything I found in my day to day encounters that seemed cool. I hired Foley artists at the Sony Pictures lot to do all of the player movements and body falls. We also recorded a lot of other sounds on the Foley stage. Things like debris, impacts, grenade bounces, weapon Foley, etc. We recorded two days of gun fire and one day of silenced guns and bullet impacts. We drove out the Arizona desert for a day of explosion recording. We also booked two days at a wrecking yard where we dropped cars from a forklift. All of this was in addition to the day to day sounds that members of the team would go out and record. There was more recording for QoS than any other game I’ve worked on. I demanded it. I approached the game as if it were a big Hollywood summer blockbuster. There were some battles with the producers over budgets, but it was worth it, and I won out in the end!
DS: I think another challenging feature was the dialogue. How and where you recorded it?
CR: Dialog was a massive task on QoS. I acted as the Dialog Supervisor for all versions of the game (360/PS3, PC, PS2, DS, and Wii). I hired Rob King, owner of Green Street Studios, to be our Dialog and Casting Director. We ended up recording several celebrities from both Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale. This was a huge challenge, as we had to track down every actor and go to them. As the QoS film was finishing shooting, the producers had us come out to Pinewood Studios in London, where they had arranged some of the actors for VO sessions. We were based in England for a few weeks recording at Pinewood and also tracking down other actors throughout Europe. Rob and I went on one whirlwind European trip that had us leaving London on a Friday afternoon, recording Mads Mikkelsen in Berlin on Saturday, recording Eva Green on Sunday in Dublin, and returning to London that same say so that we could prep for our next session in London.
On the way from Berlin to Dublin, we had a flight change in Paris, and we ended up missing our flight, which was the last of the night. We were stuck in Paris for the night with no hotel and no understanding of the French language! It was a pretty interesting experience. Luckily, we got the first flight out in the morning, landed in Dublin, and made it to the studio just before Eva Green arrived! Later, when I thought about the experience and did the math I realized we had been in 4 countries in 40 hours with no sleep. That was one of those experiences that both sucked and was really awesome at the same time.
Being a movie game we were dependant on the script from the film and it came to us very late. Not only was it late, but it changed a lot. Our game script and game design was way behind. We had our writer with us in London and he was writing scripts the day before we had Judi Dench in for a session. All the while, the game design wasn’t final and everything was always changing! The whole dialog process was a mess. We would have celebrity actors recording lines for levels that weren’t designed yet. We had no idea if they would fit the game, and we could only hope that we would get the actors back for a pickup session. There were so many drafts of the script; it was really hard to keep up with all the changes. I also ended up writing all of the AI battle dialog, because our writer was so busy with the rest of the game script.
There is no way we could have pulled it all off if it wasn’t for Rob. While we were in London, talking about the script and our recording plans, he was the one saying that we weren’t going to be able to get it done if we didn’t get moving. He was looking at the deadline and the amount of work and was worried that there wasn’t enough time. The game team had no clue; they would just keep going with their design changes and never lock the script. Everything about the design and script was so up in the air, but looking at the schedule, Rob knew that we had to get back to LA and continue with our recording as soon as we landed! We started casting for our non-celebrity sessions while we were still in England. I listened to a lot of the auditions and made casting picks on the plane back from London. Once back in LA, we went right into scheduling the non-celebrity session. We were in the studio recording for 8-9 hours, 4 actors a day, for a month. As chaotic as it all seemed, it ran like clockwork. Rob had every detail sorted out. The sessions ran like a machine.
DS: You were also the implementer on all the sides. What tools you used for that? How was the process done?
CR: We had a good sized sound team on QoS, up to 6 people at the end. Everyone was really talented and embraced using the tech to implement their sounds. Sound Designers working on levels used the game’s level editor and level scripts to implement their sounds. We had a tool (that hardly worked) to implement sounds onto animations. I handled the dialog and music implementation. For the dialog, I worked closely
with the game scripters who helped implement most of it. I would just follow behind them and change timings and things that didn’t seem to work as I’d hoped. I did all of the music implementation myself. We
didn’t have a fancy music tool. I had to go through all of the level scripts and find the places that I wanted music to start and stop and put calls in for that. We did have a slightly interactive music system, where the stealth music would change to a higher intensity version if the AI detected you. For the most part, the music was scripted by hand, it was me putting calls in that said, when this event happens, play this piece of music and then switch or stop music when this occurs.
DS: You played different roles and you had to make lots of decisions… How good was that for you? How did you feel with this lead position?
CR: As an Audio Lead on a project, you need to position yourself to best help the project succeed. When I first started on QoS, I was the only sound designer. That went on for probably 6 months. During that early period, I spent much of my time recording and building a library and creating a lot of the core sounds like movement, bullet impacts, etc. I also got a good head start on the weapon sound design. As production ramped up, our sound team grew. We got to the point where the sound design was under control, but the dialog and music really didn’t have focus. Sound design is my first love, but I needed to focus my efforts toward dialog and music to help the project succeed. I supervised the production and implementation of both. In addition, I did finish working on the weapon sounds design, I wasn’t about to give up all sound design….
DS: What is the most you learned from working on this game? We everyone learn from both bad and good things, so… how was your learning experience there?
CR: QoS was the most challenging project that I’ve ever worked on. I had never worked on a game for so long before. I’d never come in so early and had as much pre-production time, but still felt so behind as the game neared completion. There were a lot of changes in direction over the course of the project. A lot of staff changes. Trying to be in sync with an in-development film was a nightmare. There were quite a few times when you just weren’t sure what game you were working on anymore, where it was going. By the end, I was working the jobs of 3 people and working the hours to go with it. The only thing you can do is go with your instincts, rely on what got you through the problem projects of the past. The end goal is to have a great sounding game ready when it is time to ship. We had a very diverse, talented, and dedicated sound team and we achieved the goal of shipping a great sounding game.
This interview was originally posted in 2010 on designingsound.org

Call of Duty Audio Interview

Chuck Russom Special: Call of Duty [Exclusive Interview]


Call of Duty (released 7 years ago) was one of the most important jobs for Chuck Russom, so we decided to make an interview talking about that game and what it meant for his career.
Designing Sound: How do you get hired on Infinity Ward and how do you get involved with Call of Duty?
Chuck Russom: It’s crazy when I think about it, the first Call of Duty game was 7 years ago. So many of the opportunities I’ve had in my career came about because of my work on that game. It’s also been insane to watch the Call of Duty franchise grow into one of the most successful game franchises ever.
My relationship with Infinity Ward started with a job posting on a website. I was looking for a new game audio gig and I found a post by a new company that wasn’t too far from my house. I contacted them and found out that the company was formed by a bunch of guys who had worked on Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. That game was very successful and had amazing audio work, so the chance to work on a project with Infinity Ward was very appealing. After an initial meeting, they decided to contract me for a month to work on their first playable level. After that was complete, they hired me on fulltime to work on the rest of the game.
DS: I think your relationship with the rest of teams had to be even more “active”… How was that process of feedback and organizing all the stuff together?
CR: Everyone at Infinity Ward was very aware of sound. It was quite the opposite of most teams. I never had to step up on my soapbox and complain about the importance of sound. I didn’t have to spend my time convincing designers to hook my sounds up. The designers would have sound in mind while they were building an event. They would usually have sound requests to me before I had even seen the events they were working on.
DS: Being the only sound designer, and being your first project doing too much things, how do you organized your workflow? How long the project took to you?
CR: I don’t know if there was really any organized aspect to it. It was chaos! I pretty much learned as I went, though trial and error. It was my first time working on a game in that genre, my first time leading the audio, my first time working on something so high profile. I worked on the game for 9 months, and it was full bore the entire time. It never really slowed down. There was a mountain of work, and I just kept digging at it until it was done.
DS: How the limitations of that generation platform affected you on the sound specifically?
CR: Actually, Call of Duty was the first game (and the last) that I didn’t feel limited by the tech. We only shipped on PC, so I really had more memory available then I knew what to do with! Way beyond any game then I had worked on before. It was the first time that I was able to keep my sound assets at 16 bit 44.1K, which was so huge to me. It was also the first time that I had any tools that I could use to control the way sound worked in game.
DS: Did you get influenced by some other warfare game or film?
CR: Saving Private Ryan really changed my life. When I first saw that film, I had already been working as a sound designer for a couple years. I was totally blown away at the audio work in that film, I knew that I wanted to do work at that level, that I absolutely had picked the right career for me.
Going into Call of Duty, I was very influenced by Saving Private Ryan, as was the game team. The team was also very influenced by Band of Brothers and Enemy At The Gates, so those also became an influence. I spent a great deal of time watching every war movie or movie with guns that I could find.
The Medal of Honor games were a big influence, since that was our main competitor. Since most of the team had worked on Allied Assault, the audio on that game was referenced quite a bit. I spent a lot of time listening to the sound assets from the game, dissecting them, using nearly every sound as a reference to what I needed to match or better with the work I was doing.
DS: You was also the implementer, mixer and apart of making the sounds you had to make all of them work on the gameplay. How was the implementation process done? What tools did you use there?
CR: I had a lot of implementation help from the designers. They hooked up most of the sounds in the game. They also wrote me a script that I could use to place ambient emitters (fires, waterfalls, etc). As far as tools, Call of Duty was made in 2003, and audio tools have come a long way since then. I was using excel and a CSV file to control all my sound volumes, variations, fall offs, etc. It was way more control that I’d had on any previous game. The tech we had worked quite well and I was very happy with the sound coverage in game and with the mix.
CD: That was your first time with a shooter game. How do you helped to make a great shooter experience? Is there a style or technique you used to enhance the player’s emotion?
CR: I had worked on one shooter before, but it was fantasy based and nowhere near as intense or immersive. The approach on Call of Duty was to make the player feel like they were in the middle of the war. I had very dense and very loud ambient tracks playing at all times. The ambient tracks would have elements like gunfire at multiple distances, tanks, explosions, and even up close bullet impacts at times. This really gave you the feel that there was a lot of sound happening all the time. There more intense the level, the more dense I would make the ambient track.
There were always a lot of AI characters on screen with you, both enemy and friendly. Just having all these characters near you shooting their guns, made for a real intensive experience. There were always bullets whizzing by or impacting near the player, mortars whistling and exploding near the player, guys shouting words that you couldn’t quite hear, it was all very LOUD!
DS: Could you tell us something more about the recording process? I know it was your first time recording guns, so what stories you have on it?
CR: We did 4 days of gun recording, capture both gunfire and bullet impacts. We had 4 different nationalities in the game, and each had 6-8 different weapons, so there were a lot of guns. We recorded most of the actual weapons from WWII. We teamed up with Spark Unlimited who were working on a different Call of Duty game (Finest Hour), so we did a combined gun shoot. I’d never recorded guns before, so I let Jack Grillo (Audio Director from Spark) handle the recording process. We recorded to 10-12 channels. I think we had a DA88 and a couple portable DAT machines. I do remember running a couple channels of mics on my Tascam DAP1. I can’t remember too many specifics, as it was 7 years and many gun shoots ago.
DS: And what about the dialogue? Did your record that? How was the process?
CR: I did some of the early dialogue recording. Handling the engineering, editing, and processing. As development ramped up, I was way too busy with sound effects to handle much of the dialog. The bulk of the recording and editing was outsourced. I handled the mastering and any processing that was needed.
DS: That was your first time designing guns and warfare stuff. How was the creative process on the design side? What tools you used for that?
CR: The tools I used then were not too different than what I use now. Protools HD, Sound Forge, and Waves Plugins. In addition to the guns that we recorded, I had every sound library that had guns.
The process was a lot of trial and error. There were a lot of iterations. I made (and learned from) a log of mistakes. There were a lot of reworks up until the last minute. I had never designed gun sounds before that, so it took a lot of work to get to the sounds that we shipped with. One of the biggest challenges was the number and variety of guns in the game. There were probably 25-30 different guns in the game. Giving them all a unique voice was a huge challenge. It still is to this day, anytime I work on a project with a large variety of guns, its difficult. Guns just start to sound the same after a while.
DS: What was the most you learn from working on this game_? And what was your favorite thing of working on Call of Duty?
CR: The biggest thing that I took away from the project, something that’s had a lasting impact on me, is what to do when your best effort isn’t good enough. There were numerous times over the course of the project where I designed a sound, or completed a level/sequence, and while I did the work to the best of my ability, it just wasn’t at the level required by the team or the project.
In a situation like this you have two options. The first option is that you can just give up. You convince yourself that you gave it your all, maybe you just are not good enough to compete at this level, you accept it and go away and cry about it. The second option, and the only one that is acceptable to me, is to face your challenge head on. Lock yourself in your room and continue to work and rework until you get to the level you need to be at, no matter how much time or how much effort it takes. It is really about complete tunnel vision, nothing can get in the way of achieving your goal. If you commit 100% of your focus and all of your time to a problem, and you tackle it from multiple angles, you will achieve the results that you are after.
There is a song by Eminem called Lose Yourself that basically became my motivation song on that project. There is one lyric in the song that would constantly play in my head; “Success is your only motherfucking option, failure’s not.” I would constantly remind myself that, every time I thought I hit a wall while working on something. I’d listen to the song all the time in the car while driving to work, just to hammer the thought home. There as no way I could accept anything less than perfection. The game was just too good to have inferior audio. And the team expected nothing less than “award-winning audio”.

This interview was originally published in 2010 on Designing Sound.  It covers the audio design for the 2003 PC Game Call of Duty.